Communist successes in Indo-China and why Malaysian Government must reform labour laws

Speech by Sdr. Lim Kit Siang, DAP Secretary General and MP for Kota Melaka, at a May Day reception organised by the Malacca DAP Labour Bureau at its premises at 33A Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Malacca, at 8 p.m. on 1.5.1975

Communist successes in Indo-China and why Malaysian Government must reform labour laws

Malaysian workers celebrate May Day this year against a backdrop of great historical changes and development, not only in Indo-China – with the recent fall of Phnom Penh and the triumph of the GRUNK of Cambodia and the total collapse and surrender of the Saigon regime to the provisional revolutionary government of Vietnam – but also the whole of South East Asia.

In fact, the question that is being asked in many South East Asian capitals, is why they could become a second Vietnam, now that the victory of the Vietnamese communists nationalists in defeating the technologically and militarily advanced nation in the world has culminated in their assumption of power in their homeland an dterminating three decades of bloodshed and suffering there. Will the agony and sufferings that was the daily life and nightmare of a generation of Vietnamese be transferred to a new arena in South East Asia?

The American domino theory was advanced as the basis to justify their military adventures and aggression in South East Asia. It has rightly/discredited as it is found on the belief that if one country/been in South East Asia falls, under communist rule, the rest of the countries in South East Asia will ll in, one after another in sucession.

This domino theory disregards the fact and reality that every other South East Asia country has an independent will of its own and is not blindly a victim to the logic of the domino theory.

If another South East Asian country should turn communist after the communists successes in Indo-China, it will/be because of the operation/not of the domino theory but because of the failure of another South East Asian country to provide a good, clean and honest government and a just and equal society to unite the people in all fields of human endeavour. In other words, the fall will be because of internal factors rather than external.

It is in this country that all south East Asian governments should as a matter of urgent priority assess their policies to make them responsible to the needs and aspirations of all sections of the people. In this far-reaching review, the place of workers should be re-examined critically and dispassionately so that all labour policies and measures which are inimical to the interest of the workers are abolished and replaced by pro-labour ones.

In Malaysia, our workers have suffered under a host of anti-labour laws which have not only restricted the rights of the workers to their just share of their labour but has enabled a high capitalistic exploitation of workers.

Before it is passed must be debated, discusses, deliberated in depth and all the relevant quarters being consulted. This Bill was tabled here on Friday. The university authorities, I am sure, have not been consulted. The Bar Council, for instance, have they been consulted? In this Bill there are various provisions which confer very, arbitrary powers, even more arbitrary than those which I mentioned earlier in this House and to wish I shall come later. Have the students been consulted? Now if there is parliamentary democracy, it does not only mean that Members of Parliament can come here, are given the Bill two to three days earlier are expected to contribute. It also means that they can go back to their constituencies; it also means that they can consult the various cross section of public opinion, because Members of Parliament must not only come and express their views but also reflect, voice the views of the people – of the students, of the lecturers, of the parents, because let us not be conceited. We on our side here do not regard or believe, and I hope the Government themselves do not believe that they are the know-alls; all-knowing, all-wise, because then we are not having a democracy. But the introduction of this Bill clearly indicates:

(1) That despite Government professions that everything is all right, everything is not all right.
(2) It indicates that despite the last five years of government work, governmental efforts, the aim of national unity, the aim of promoting a freer and more democratic society has failed, because otherwise such a very repressive Bill will not be necessary.

We are going backwards and not forward. Although despite governmental efforts to show to the public and the world that since May 13 everything has been on the forward march towards profress, in fact, it is not so. Things have been swept under the carpet, although it is not supposed to be done, and slowly now things are emerging on to the surface. I urge that time must be given to the public, to all relevant sections of public opinion, to consider, to study, to deliberate this Bill because I do not believe that if this Bill is not passed today, that if we give six months’ period whereby all relevant sections can be consulted and parliamentary democracy and participatory democracy can really work, that this country is going to collapse. I do not believe that if we give another six months whereby democracy works, that the country will be in chaos; that the country is so fragile that time is not only running out but has run out. I do not know whether it is because that the arguments, the reasons for this Bill, presented so ably by the Honourable Ministers, are so flimsy that they really cannot go before the public, not only in the campus, but before the public, debated, discussed, the merits and demerits, to be allowed to surface. Those can be the two reasons that this Bill is now being, as I have said, incubated with such secrecy and rushed through with such haste if we do not do it now the country is going to tear apart, or it is something which cannot stand up to public argument and public debate. The Honourable Minister has been one who has been giving credit where credit is due among the front-benchers; he has gone before forums and participated in discussions despite popular or unpopular receptions, and for one with that background I would like to know why this thing has been rushed through in this manner.

With reference to Indo-China, as I have said, we must take note that the way for the people to be more united, to want to defend, to see that the dangers of Communist guerillas do not become real, is not by taking away more freedom, by repressing the people or the students of the universities, but by giving them a greater sense of participation in a democratic society. But unfortunately here we are in a reverse role. We are told that ‘kita tidak ada masa’; we cannot be tolerant of those things now; things are now very dark, very bleak, we cannot tolerate all these liberal, ill-founded, misguided ideas, and that such repressive actions are needed in order to get on with the job. These were the arguments that President Thieu presented when he clamped down the Press, eroded democratic rights and suppressed the people – there is no time, we are facing the Communists up north, no time for these nations, get on with the job, the peoples’ rights are secondary – and how he is holed up in his own palace. And the fall of Danang should be a lesson to us. Danang fell because the Saigon Administration and even its American sponsors were unaware of what was coming because they did not expect it to come as they had been out off from public opinion at the ground level. And I say that we are committing the same mistake. We are cutting ourselves off from the ground and not learning the mistake in regards to Danang by Saigon or President Thieu if we go this way – no time for the rights of the people, no time for the rights of the University students; we just clamp them down.

I say therefore that for the interest of the larger perspective that was stated by the Honourable the Minister, it is exactly in those very termsthat the Government must think again.

This is a piece of panic legislation, rising from panic reaction. I call upon the Government to think again and take into consideration the larger interests, the long-term interest of this country and of the people. I know that we open ourselves to charges, which are always made whenever we stand up and make clear our views, of being anti-national, of being even subversive involving in sabotage, but even at the price it is our duty, not only to ourselves but to the people and the country to forewarn the Government of the false step that it is taking for if this Bill is passed into law, it will not only be a black day for the university and student rights but, even more important, for the country. For this Bill is a recipe or a formula to produce not trained and qualified people who can harness themselves for the economic development of the country, but a nation of sheep who are benefit of inquisitive, curious minds and such people are no better than digits incapable of intellectual efforts in acquiring critical ability and such people cannot produce a great nation and such people cannot contribute to any economic development in the country.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, the Honourable Minister in his speech of some of the background of student activities loading to the present Bill. We know that there were many things left unsaid. In fact, I would say that it is very ironical that the Honourable Minister who, to a large extent, has reached his present pinnacle of position on student support has now turned so fiercely against them. A lot of things were left unsaid. In this Bill it is proposed that under new Section 15(1):

“No person, while he is a student of the university, shall be a member of, or shall in any manner associate with, any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation, body or group of persons whatsoever, whether or not it is established under any law, whether it is in the University or outside the University, and whether it is in Malaysia or outside Malaysia, except as may be provided by or under the Constitution, or except as may be approved in advance in writing by the Vice-Chancellor.”

One gets the impression that the students are now being acted against not because of their political activism, or student activism for that matter, but because they have taken part in a student a activism which is critical of or as a matter of fact has taken on the Government. If they had continued to know the rules of the game as in the past few years and continued not to at least cross the lines, clear though unseen, maybe they would not only be not prohibited of acted against but would be encouraged. We are aware that the present Bill before us today has a very long history, going back to the student activities in Penang over the Glugor squatters in their social awareness and conscience against the system and society which has no compassion or room for the landless. In the student activism in Tasik Utara loading subsequently in the University of Malaya take-over which was mentioned by the Honourable the Minister, although he omitted very conspicuously the counter take-over which was sponsored and approved by the authorities.

Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad: Mr. Speaker, Sir, may I point out that the Member brought this amendment Motion to defer discussion of the Bill for another six months but he is not giving his reasons why he wants it to be deferred. But he is discussing the merits and demerits of the Bill now.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Under the Standing Orders, Tuan Yang di-Pertua….

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Confine your arguments on why this Bill is to be deferred for another six months.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Tuan Yang di-Pertua, I have not moved my amendment Motion yet and I am going by the Standing Order whereby the amendment Motion can be moved at the end of my speech and until the amendment is moved the subject is still on the present Bill. I am sure the Honourable Minister is aware of it.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: But you are moving an amendment.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Yes, I am moving a motion at the end of my speech.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: It is not a Motion.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: An amendment to the Motion.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Yes, an amendment to the Motion.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: I have not moved the amendment to the Motion yet. I proposed to move it at the end.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: You better move it. What is your amendment?

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Until a Motion is amended, the debate is still on the Bill proper. I proposed as permitted under the Standing Orders to speak on the Bill proper and then move my amendment unless I can, after amendment is disposed of, speak on the Bill again.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Please sit down first. Standing Order 53(4) state:

“On the second reading of a Bill, an amendment of which at least one day’s notice in writing has been given may be proposed to the questions, “That the Bill be now read a second time,” to leave out the word ‘now’ and add, at the end of the question, ‘on this day six months’, or, in the alternative, an amendment may be moved to leave out all the words after the word ‘That’ in order to add words stating the object and motive on which the opposition to the Bill is based, but such words must be strictly relevant to the principle of the Bill and not deal with its details. If the House agrees to an amendment in either of such forms, the second reading of the Bill shall be considered to habe been negative”. According to your notice to the Speaker, Tuan Lim Kit Siang telah mengemukakan suatu usul pindaan seperti berikut:

“Menurut Fasal 53(4) Peraturan Mesyuarat Dewan Rakyat, ingin saya member pemberitahu bahawa apabila Rang Undang-undang Universiti dan Kolej Universiti (Pindaan) dibacakan kali yang kedua, saya akan bercadang pindaan kepada masaalah, “iaitu Rang Undang-undang ini dabacakan kali yang kedua sekarang” itu dengan masaalah itu ‘enam bulan dari hari ini.’” Ini pindaan Ahli Yang Berhormat.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: I fullt agree, Tuan Yang di-Pertua. As I mentioned just now, I have not yet moved my amendment. I want to move an amendment to the Motion for the reason that I felt that it would not be necessary for me later to speak again when we come back to the Bill, but the Honourable Minister requested that I confie myself to the amendment now and when the amendment is disposed of either way and the debate comes back to the Bill proper if I can be given a chance to come back on the Bill proper, I shall do so.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Yes, I would give you a chance but not to repeat what you have said.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Thank you. In that case I would move the amendment and give supplementary reasons in addition to what I have said earlier for the amendment. The amendment I propose, to move is that “Saya cadang pindaan kepada masaalah “Iaitu Rang Undang-undang ini dibacakan kali yang kedua sekarang” itu dengan ditinggalkan perkataan “sekarang” dan tambah di hujung asaalah itu, “enam bulan dari hari ini.”

The importance of this Bill should be fully discussed by the public, to be debated and deliberated before it is rammed through. Many of the reasons I have already put forward and those that I have put forward I shall not repeat.

A further reason why I am urging for the extension of time on this matter, as to whether the proposals that have been included should stay in or should be removed, is that if this Bill is pushed through now it will mean not only a mark of disrespect for the many learned and responsible men in the country’s various Universities and Colleges, but, in fact, it is a contempt because we are completely disregarding their views and their experience on this matter. To treat the academicians and University administrators in this fashion as untrustworthy irresponsible persons would, I think, be ill-becoming of this house, this Parliament.

Furthermore, as I mentioned just now, there are provisions in this Bills which confer, to my mind, very great, wide and untrammeled powers which, I fell, legally should be subjected to examination not only by the people, but also by the Bar Council and other relevant authorities.

I will just give one instance whereby this Bill, in effect, confers on the Honourable Minister the powers not only of a super Chancellor but the power of a super Judge.

For example, Clause 3, new Section 15D (7) says:-

“The provisions of sub-section (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5)…”

i.e. Sub-section (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) refer to “suspension and expulsion of a student charged with a criminal offence or against whom a criminal offence is proved.”

Section 15D says:

“(1) Where a student of the University is charged with a criminal offence he shall immediately thereupon be suspended from being a student of the University and shall not, during the pendency of the criminal proceedings, remain in or enter the Campus of that or any other University.

(2) Where a court finds that a charge for a criminal offence is proved against a student of the University, the student shall, immediately thereupon, cease to be a student of the University, and shall not remain in or enter the Campus of that or any other University.

(3) A student of the University who is detained or its subjected to any order imposing restrictions on him, under any written law relating to preventive detention or internal security, shall, immediately thereupon, cease to be a student of the University and shall not remain in our enter the Campus of that or any other University.

(4) A student of the University who is suspended from being a student of the University under the provisions of sub-sedition (1) shall not, while he is so suspended, be admitted as a student of any other University Malaysia without the written approval of the Minister, and if the Minister grants such approval, the Minister may impose such conditions as he may, in his absolute discretion, deem fit to impose.

Section 15D (7) provides – and this is the sub-section I referred to, I quote:-

“(7) The provisions of sub-sections (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) shall apply to a person notwithstanding that there may be pending in any court or before any other authority any application, petition, appeal, or other proceeding whatsoever by him or by any other person in respect of the criminal proceedings, the detention, or the order imposing restrictions, as the case may be:

Provided that upon the determination of such application, petition, appeal or other proceeding the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, have regard to such determination and grant exemption to the student from the application of the provisions of sub-section (1), (2), (3), (4) or (5), as the case may be, upon such terms and conditions as he may, in his absolute discretion, deem fit to impose.”

Here it provides that if a student is charged in court, he is suspended and found guilty, then action is taken against him. If he appeals and he wins his appeal, although he may be cleared in an appeal by the Federal Court or an Appeal Court, “the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, have regard to such determination.” He can even disregard the winning of such an appeal.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Your amending Motion is to defer this Bill six months from now but you are talking of “the Minister may, in his absolute discretion”, I do not know what your argument is about.

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: Well, there is an opportunity for the Honourable Minister to convince the public or the relevant authorities that there is the rule of law. Yet there is this “double absolute discretion” whereby the Honourable Minister becomes the super judge and can disregard an appeal.

Tuan Rasiah Rajasingam (Jelutong): Tuan Yang di-Pertua, the Honourable Member for Kota Melaka is again going into the merits and demerits of the Bill. He has given certain reasons for deferring the Bill for six months but he is going back again to the merits and demerits of the Bill.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Well, I have given the Honourable Member for Kota Melaka a certain latitude of freedom in his speech, just to make the debate more interesting, but he should not go too far. I will not extend that latitude any further.

Tuan Lim kIt Siang: Thank you, Tuan Yang di-Pertua. We know that Honourable Members of the Government are all very “brave” men, although they do not want to listen to the truth.

There is a Clause whereby a Minister an disregard an appeal won by a student charged in court and let him to be continued to be thrown out of the University and deny him a university education. I think that goes against the very grain of the rule of law in the Constitution and the Rukunegara.

In view of the ruling by Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua that we confine ourselves to the amendment, I will not go further into the various merits, or rather the demerits, of the Bill, except to urge that this matter be deferred for six months so that we do not allow panic reactions, so that we do not allow panic legislations to go through, but that all matters are taken into full consideration and “He who laughs-last, laughs loudest”. Thank you.

Tuan (Timbalan) Yang di-Pertua: Now who is in the state of penic? (Ketawa)

Tuan Lim Kit Siang: The Government is in the state of penic because this is a “panic legislation” arising from what the Honourable Minister has mentioned, unless, as I have said, they are not afraid of giving us six months. As a matter of fact, I was intending to ask that the matter be referred to a Special Parliamentary Committee to study it, because there must be amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act, but not definitely in this fashion. Therefore I propose that this matter be deferred for six months and that in the meanwhile a Special Parliamentary Committee be appointed, or an All-Party delegation, so that we can go into the whole matter depth in a calm manner.